With new territory comes a vast architectural culture and history. While the Midwest is home to many distinguished styles, perhaps none is as storied as Potawatomi architecture. While our Modernist design is in stark contrast with Potawatomi styles, as we continue to expand our community into Wilmette, we honor the history and modern-day impact of the land’s past Potawatomi architecture.
Found in the Great Lakes region, the Potawatomi’s architecture became heavily influenced by the climate and resources of the area. Traditionally, Potawatomi bands built two separate types of shelters: the wigwam and the longhouse. Construction on longhouses traces back to 900 CE. The rectangular builds held various uses in a tribe, from holding meeting places and ceremonies to uses as multi-family homes.
The wigwam was a popular element in Indigenous architecture stretching beyond the Potawatomi. To construct the dome-shaped home, the Potawatomi typically used a mixture of bent saplings as the home’s skeleton, with woven mats or sheets of bark covering the exterior. The interior of the wigwam would normally include a fire in the center of the shelter with a smoke hole directly above.
Early adopters of sustainable architecture, Potawatomi bands used everything they could for their builds with little waste. Animal skin was used as blankets, bags or insulation, and everything from tree bark to cattail reeds were used throughout a home’s construction.
While little remains of Potawatomi architecture today, honoring the history and significance is critical to ensuring it remains a part of our history. To learn more about the Potawatomi’s storied architecture and culture, visit their website here.
In the late 19th century when few women were to be found in the architecture field, Mary Colter disrupted the landscape with lasting impact. Her career was founded on lifelong passions that began with deep curiosity about Native American culture and a love of Arts and Crafts architecture that she was exposed to as a young girl. Learn more about her inspiring life and work below:
The Life of Mary Colter
Colter was born on April 4, 1869, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she was raised by her merchant father, William Colter, and milliner mother, Rebecca Colter. As a child, Colter moved across America with her family, living in towns from Colorado to Texas before calling St. Paul, Minnesota home for the rest of her youth. In St. Paul, she acquainted herself with the large Sioux community in the city, immersing herself in their art and culture while profoundly influencing her architectural practice.
After graduating high school at just 14 years old, Colter moved with her mother and enrolled in Oakland’s California School of Design, where she studied art and design. In California, she not only advanced her drawing skills but discovered an appreciation for architecture, thanks to an apprenticeship at a local firm. In 1891, she returned to St. Paul, where she found herself teaching art, design and architecture at Mechanics Arts High School for more than 15 years. Students of Colter later found themselves winning awards at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair.
Notable Works and Achievements
In 1902, with her newfound recognition, Colter was appointed Chief Architect at the Fred Harvey Company in St. Paul, where she completed designs for 21 hotels, shops and rest areas along numerous railways across the Western United States. Many of Colter’s designs featured characteristics she quickly became known for, including narrow windows, low ceilings, courtyards and being built into the Earth.
Throughout her career, Colter designed a series of buildings in the Grand Canyon National Park, including the most recognized of the series, Hopi House, in 1905. In the build, Colter employed various indigenous builders, artists and craftsmen in the area to help with her “re-creation.” The completed design exhibits a rectangular, Hopi pueblo structure, finished with stone masonry, mud-coated ceilings and other precise details that model the traditional dwelling type. Hopi House and three other buildings designed by Colter in Grand Canyon National Park were later named National Historic Landmarks in 1987.
Outside of Grand Canyon National Park, Colter left her mark on other famed designs, including what she stated was her masterpiece, La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona. Completed in 1930, the hacienda-style hotel features Spanish Colonial Revival characteristics in its design. Colter’s say in La Posada’s design stretched from the building’s facade and gardens to its interior and dishware.
Although she grew up in the Midwest, Colter had an enormous influence across the western states, thanks to her curiosity and drive. Blending Spanish Colonial Revival style with Native American cultural elements, Colter helped shape much of the architecture that remains intact in the Southwest today and became a voice for many who didn’t have one at the time.
Although 50 years old, Paolo Soleri’s visionary planned city, Arcosanti, is still thriving today. For the last five decades, the magnificent community exhibited the best of Soleri’s philosophy, fusing architecture and ecology and providing a home for many educational resources. However, currently the famed property is entering a new era, pushing the boundaries of Soleri’s philosophy further than ever.
Liz Martin-Malikian, CEO of Arcosanti under the Cosanti Foundation states that while the community’s first half-century focused on Soleri’s vision, the next half-century will focus on the collective. Not only does the community aim to unearth more behind arcology, but they also plan to collaborate and partner with various groups, including local Indigenous populations.
Many of Arcosanti’s resources are provided to students of The School of Architecture, a crucial feature of the community. One of the key programs constantly bringing new life to the planned city is The Shelter Program. The capstone design project encourages students to design and build single-occupancy structures for future students throughout the community.
While preserving Arcosanti’s historic past, Martin-Malikian is embracing the future by decoding Soleri’s philosophy of arcology – starting by reframing the community’s vision around its cultural landscape. Along with debuting a Cosanti Indigenous Residency, a new Indigenous co-design program provides a new opportunity to combine sustainability with passive and culturally diverse designs.
Arcosanti has always existed as a hub for innovation and inspiration. And today, with a spotlight on collective, the planned city is preparing to embrace its regional heritage more than ever before. To explore more about Arcosanti, and stay up to date on their events and programming, head to their website here.